Every year we make observations and evaluate colony performance for basic characteristics such as Overwintering, Gentleness, Brood Viability, Longevity of the Queen, Queen Fecundity, Disinclination to Swarming, Resistance to Brood Diseases and Quietness on the Comb. Each colony is scored accordingly. This information is stored in a database, where we analyze and make a pre-selection. This is the first step.
In order to achieve the objectives established for the Russian Bee Project, we conduct 4 or 5 major tests on all colonies headed by pre-selected pure Russian queens. Each year, we alternate families from the first block with the second block. Therefore all families are tested every 2 years.
YEAR 0 – The queen is raised and introduced into a single brood chamber colony or nuclei.
YEAR 1 – The colony is run normally for honey and nuclei production. They are also evaluated and submitted to the 4 or 5 performance tests.
YEAR 2 – The queens selected as mothers are utilized to raise the next generations of pure Russian queens. These are classified as Select Queens, and can be utilized as Drone Mothers or Queen Mothers.
YEAR 3 – The best Select Queens, the ones who survived their second winter in good shape, are classified as Breeder Queens and are utilized as Mothers to raise large number of Open Mated Queens for sales.
The Performance tests are performed during YEAR 1. These tests are the Honey Production Test, the Hygienic Test, the Quick-Test, the 24-Hour Mite Drop Test, and the Nosema Level Test.
The Tech-Transfer Team of the OBA also performs analysis of bee samples for each pre-selected queens as a service to queen breeders participating in the program. They perform an alcohol wash to determine how many varroa mites per 100 bees. They also dissect bees for HTM (Honeybee Tracheal Mites). Finally, they analyze the sample for nosema spores (Nosema Level Test).
This test measures the level of hygienic behavior of the colony. Two recessive genes are responsible for this trait, useful in controlling Varroa mites, as well as American & European Foulbrood. One gene causes the bees to detect and uncap infected brood cells, while the other gene makes the bees to remove the content of the cell, in order to eradicate any infection. The two genes must be present in the majority of the population of the colony, in order for the colony to be considered hygienic.
This test is accomplished by using liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill a predetermined number of capped brood cells of the right age, thus submitting the bees to dead pupae within the cells. The frame of brood is reinserted in the colony. 24 hours later, the frame is examined to evaluate how many cells are uncapped and the contents removed. This gives a percentage of hygienic behavior.
The results are classified in 4 distinctive groups indicating the performance of the colony for this trait. Only colonies scoring in Group 1 are selected as breeders.
% of cells uncapped and contents removed in 24 hour
Group 1 75-100
Group 2 50-75
Group 3 25-50
This test measures the ability of the colony to resist infestation from Honeybee Tracheal Mites (HTM). This mite lives in the trachea of the bee. In order to perform this test, we must remove a frame of emerging bees, and send it along with some bees, to our Tech-Transfer Team working for the OBA (Ontario Beekeepers’ Association). The adhering bees are brushed off and the frame is incubated overnight in a special cage to trap all emerging bees. These bees are carefully tagged individually to know from which breeder queen they came from and introduced randomly in infected colonies. The newly emerging bees are susceptible to tracheal mites in the first 7 days. A week later, the bees are retrieved from the colonies, hand picked one by one, and classified according to their original location (mother-breeder queen). Each bee is then sent to the bee lab to be sliced and examined under a microscope to count the number of tracheal mites they contain.
The level of resistance to infestation is measured in 2 ways. Prevalence indicates the % of bees that were infested. Abundance indicates the average number of mites found in the trachea. The results are analyzed and presented to participant bee breeders. The colonies’ results are classified in 4 different groups, depending on their respective results. Again, Group 1 represent the best colonies, exhibiting resistance to HTM, and Group 4 are the least resistant colonies. We can therefore determine which colonies are the most resistant by selecting the top scoring colonies. Colonies classified in Group 1 and 2 can be selected as breeders.
This test has not been done since 2006 due to a lack of HTM infested colonies in the province.
24-Hour Mite Drop Test
This simple test is useful in determining the level of resistance of the colony to varroa mites. Varroa cannot be eradicated completely, but can be controlled successfully. We know that the varroa population increases during the summer, and coincides with brood rearing activity. By the end of the summer in September, varroa population has reached its maximum. This test measures the natural mortality of varroa for a period of time. We know from research that this amount of natural mite fall is proportional to the total mite population in the colony. If the level of varroa mite dying from natural cause is low, we know that the population of varroa in the colony is low. By comparing colonies in the same apiary, we can find out which one has a lower varroa population, and this indicates a genetic resistance.
To perform this test, we insert a piece of cardboard covered by a glue substance, to make sure the dead varroa stays on the paper and do not fall off when we remove the paper for inspection. Additionally, we cover the paper with a raised 8×8 mesh screen so that the bees do not houseclean the paper and debris, accumulating during the waiting period. The cardboard are labeled by colony #, date and time in and out. Each cardboard is examined carefully for the presence of dead varroa mites and the exact count is recorded. We survey all pre-select colonies in each apiary the first week of September.
We can then compare each pre-selected colony with the average of the apiary to determine if it shows better resistance. This method of analyzing takes into account the particular environmental condition of the apiary at this time. We can therefore calculate the # of mites/24 hour for each colony surveyed, and the difference with the apiary average for each colony. The degree of resistance to varroa is determined by the value of the difference. If the value is negative, it means this colony is showing resistance to varroa compared to the rest of the apiary. If the value is positive, it means the colony has less resistance than the rest of the apiary.
Honey Production Test
We measure honey production using a spring scale attached to an Easy Loader whenever removing supers of honey. We record the amount of supers removed also. The computer calculates the net amount of honey produced by subtracting the average weight of the empty supers. Therefore, we can easily select the best producing colonies as queen and drone mothers for next year’s queen rearing season. We can also compare each colony’s performance to the apiary average to give us a more objective evaluation. During the season, climatic and floral diversity may vary from one apiary to the next, affecting colony performance from one apiary to the next. In comparing colonies from the same apiary we can better determine performance by eliminating environmental differences.